Now and then, a development team comes along that dominates every aspect of what it takes to create a video game. It arguably happened in the ’80s and ’90s with the likes of Argonaut, Rockstar, and Core Design, and it is most certainly happening right now with Naughty Dog. Fittingly for an Indiana Jones-style hero, everything the Santa Monica-based studio touches turns – Midas-like – to gold.
After the runaway success of The Last of Us, we all waiting with baited breath for the announcement of a PS4-based Uncharted title. After months of waiting, and a few extra delays over the original target launch date – faces turning blue from the lack of oxygen – we were finally able to inhale the last chapter of Nathan Drake’s story in May 2016. In a year full of bad news, this was one beacon of joy from start to gut-wrenching finish.
I realise that some of you will only now be starting your journey through Uncharted’s waters as you get to grips with your Christmas PS4 bundle, so this Game of the Year article will be without spoilers. You can thank me later.
But what is apparent from the moment you start playing Uncharted 4 is the sheer quality of everything the game has to offer. Graphically, it is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. And it has faultless graphics too: No incredible glitches that are destined to be immortalised in a meme and posted on Imgur in perpetuity. Every aspect of what you see – from the main characters to a blade of long grass – looks incredible and moves exactly as you’d expect it to.
The story is wonderfully told, from the nostalgia-laden opening to the final credits. And the characters themselves are outstanding too. Those that are new to the franchise gain a real understanding of why Drake is the way he is, and none of the cast are left with anything less than full character development. Speaking of the cast, the game has something for everyone: Naughty Dog not only understands how to create a game full of diversity, but it is refreshing to see strong, independent female characters at the forefront. No lame duck “difficult to animate” excuses here.
The sound is every part the equal of the visual elements. Effects are perfect and create an atmosphere that can’t be beaten. And the soundtrack is outstanding too – something that has become a hallmark of Naughty Dog’s games over the last few years. Just as with the graphics, everything fits the action with split-second timing. There is never a moment that causes you to flinch or be removed from the reality created by the game, which sometimes happens with other titles that don’t match the effect to the moment with the same level of care or accuracy.
And you simply can’t ask for more when it comes to the gameplay or the controls. Intuitive, responsive, accurate, and immersive, Uncharted 4 never puts you in a position where you feel out of control or that the action is lagging.
While it might sound like I’m gushing about everything, my Game of the Year isn’t without fault. The multiplayer aspect originally started out as a simple, add-on affair that didn’t – initially at least – match that of The Last of Us, which I played until my thumbs bled. But after a short delay, and a few updates that added extra game modes, more maps, and balanced some of the gameplay, it has grown on me. Regular readers of our team updates will no doubt remember just how much I played U4’s multiplayer throughout 2016.
Other than that small niggle, Uncharted 4 remains a complete gem. If you haven’t already played it through, and then delved into the multiplayer aspect, you’re missing what will go down as the PlayStation 4’s most fundamental title. Every PS4 owner should complete Nathan Drake’s final chapter, even if you’ve not had the pleasure of completing the first three episodes in his story.
For those of us that have lived through Uncharted’s twists and turns since 2007, Uncharted 4 provides a fitting end to the tale, although – as we now know – it isn’t really the end. While Drake’s story has been told, Naughty Dog announced Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, a standalone title featuring Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, which will help us get our adventuring fix in 2017 and beyond.